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BWW Reviews: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Enchants Now Through Jan 5

The enchanting musical Beauty and the Beast delighted audiences at San Francisco's Curran Theater on opening night and is the perfect dose of holiday entertainment for children of all ages. Disney's timeless tale of love and transformation is touring the country and will be in San Francisco through January 5, 2014. A NETworks Presentations event, this show forgoes some of the more costly set designs of the original Broadway show but loses nothing of the melodic magnificence of Menken, Ashman and Rice's original masterpiece. Musical Director/Conductor Kevin Francis Finn helms the lush orchestrations of Danny Troob, while the beautifully crafted book by Linda Woolverton brings her animated original to the stage in superb fashion.

As any five-year-old child can tell you, Beauty and the Beast is the story of a mean and selfish prince who is turned into a beast by an enchantress who curses him because of his lack of caring. In order to break the spell he must learn to love and be loved in return or he will remain a beast forever. But who could learn to love a beast?

Darick Pead is absolutely superb as the hot-tempered and touchy beast who is surprised and displeased to find intruders in his enchanted castle. First there's an old man named Maurice (the addled inventor is played by Paul Crane) and then his beautiful daughter, Belle (Hilary Maiberger).

It's a tall order to evoke such a range of emotion and feeling on a face covered in fur, but even behind his beastly prosthetics Pead manages, by turns, to make the beast frightfully large and terrifying and then endearingly tender as he dares to hope that someone might yet love him and lift the curse. His comedic lines are delivered with awkward charm as the beast slowly seeks to find his way back to his humanity. Pead's rich baritone (especially in "If I can't Love her") is nuanced, poignant and heartrending.

At first the beast locks up Maurice but then allows Belle to be his prisoner in her father's stead. Maurice returns home to try and get help from the village hunk, Gaston (Tim Rogan) and his buffoonish sidekick LeFou (played with pratfall perfection by Jordan Aragon). Rogan is great as the cartoonish, muscle-flexing he-man who doesn't understand why Belle likes to read. He finds her odd (as does the entire village) because her nose is always in a book, but he is bowled over by her beauty and vows to make her his bride. She wants nothing to do with him. Bonny Kelly, Sarah Gawron and Tiger Brown and hilarious as the 'Silly Girls' who are in love with Gaston.

As the beautiful and bookish Belle, Maiberger lacked energy but her vocal performance was stellar. In "A Change in Me," her voice powerfully arches, conveying a determined spirit that is compelling and sincere. What a wonderful gift this character is to young girls everywhere.

The special effects were fine (especially when the beast transforms into the prince) but the fog machine was on overdrive and flooded the orchestra pit and the first few rows of audience members all three times it was used.

The enchanted castle is filled with colorful characters who dazzle in supporting roles as servants who are in the process of becoming household items under the curse. In particular Kristin Stewart as the teapot, Mrs. Potts, is a standout. Her warm and wistful tones on the title song "Beauty and the Beast" are sublime while James May (the tightly wound Cogsworth) and Hassan Nazari-Robati (the charming and debonair Lumiere) are ideal as the clock and candelabra - best friends and confidants to the prince turned beast.

There are several outstanding ensemble dance numbers (Dance arrangements, Glen Kelly), especially the cup clinking tavern number about Gaston, and the exuberantly performed showstopper "Be Our Guest," lead by Lumiere as the master of ceremonies.

Beauty and the Beast enchants and delights and is pure musical magic. Children will be charmed and transfixed while adults will be moved by the vulnerable beast who finds love by putting Belle's needs before his own, becoming human in the process. See Beauty and the Beast it before it leaves San Francisco.

Beauty and the Beast: Musical comedy
By Linda Woolverton, adapted from her screenplay
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Through Jan 5. Curran Theatre, SHNSF
Two hours, 30 minutes
(415) 512-7770.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

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